Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

Essential Biblical Assumptions about Human Nature: A Modest Proposal

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

Essential Biblical Assumptions about Human Nature: A Modest Proposal

Article excerpt

A review of the literature discussing the state of human nature by Christian mental health professionals indicates there has been ample discussion, but the content suffers either a paucity of breadth, depth, or economy. In response, the author proposes an alternative, a compendium of seven essential biblical assumptions. This collection provides a fundamental level of description of humanness derived from God's three major actions - creation, redemption, and sanctification - toward humankind and balances both comprehensiveness and parsimony. Each assumption is discussed with important implications highlighted. Limitations of this proposal and its potential contributions are delineated.

Human nature refers to the "essential features of human beings" (Pasnau, 2002, p. 2). It is regarded as the basic design or the common characteristics present in all humans differentiating them from other organisms in the universe (Kaplan, 1977).

Throughout the history of psychology, mental health professionals have generated theories that not only imply the existence of human nature, but also formulate some specifications about its contents (Buss, 1999). Each theory reveals the author's assumptions or control beliefs about personhood and competes for attention.

But, who is man or woman in the sight of God? What defining features about the human condition has God revealed in Scripture? Specifically, which biblically-derived traits collectively provide a fundamental level of description of humanness that is both comprehensive and parsimonious? Furthermore, what compendium of assumptions is most essential to Christian mental health professionals for comprehending, evaluating, and developing psychological theories?

Over the past four decades, Christian mental health professionals have addressed the question "What is a human being?" from a biblical perspective. A review of the literature reveals there has been ample discussion that is both diverse and spirited. Often-discussed aspects of human nature include constitutional models, state traits (e.g., fallenness), agency, and functional capacities (e.g., rationality, morality).

State traits, the facet of human nature pertinent to this article, refer to the condition of humans prior to the imposition of social or environmental influences (Grohol, 2005; Schultz & Schultz, 2001). They are innate dimensions of personhood. Several features related to the state of human nature have been discussed in the literature. These include creatureliness (Cloud & Townsend, 1992; Crabb, 1987; Jones & Butman, 1991; Kirwan, 1984; Mavis, 1964), being an imager of God (Collins, 1977, 1988; Entwistle, 2004; Jeeves, 1997; Vitz, 1987), fallenness or an innate sin nature (Beck, 1999; Ellens, 1989; Johnson, 1987; Kotesky, 1980; Meier, Minirth, & Wichern, 1982; Menninger, 1973; Westphal, 1987), a transcendent drive (Benner, 1981; Benner & Palmer, 1986), and dominion, sociability, sexuality, and dignity (Kirwan, 1984; Van Leeuwen, 1985, 2002). Other mentioned characteristics relevant to human nature include persons being redeemed or converted (Beck, 1999; Briggs, 1987; Hiltner, 1989; Jones & Butman, 1991), being indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Farnsworth, 1985; Ridgway, 1983), being an instrument of righteousness (Beck, 1999), and experiencing the sanctification process (Ridgway, 1983).

However, there are noticeable gaps in this literature base. First, most discussions lack breadth. Authors do not connect state traits together into a comprehensive model, but commonly address only one to three core characteristics. Moreover, the frequently mentioned traits are rarely derived from all three of God's major works-creation, redemption, and sanctification-toward humankind (Oden, 1998). Second, the content on the state traits is underdeveloped, even superficial in many instances. Authors appear to assume their readers have sufficient knowledge about the assumptions. Third, the few inclusive and thorough discussions lack parsimony. …

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